They're known to collect blue items of rubbish to help attract a mate, but there's a much darker side to the bowerbird's quirky behaviour than meets the eye.
A photo showing a deceased bowerbird, believed to be a juvenile male, has angered the masses after it was shared online on Saturday because a plastic ring from a bottle of milk is what's believed to have caused its death.
A NSW man found the native animal in his backyard with the plastic ring stuck in its mouth and around its head. It's likely the bird was out scavenging for blue objects to take back to its bower when, somehow, it became entangled.
"A reminder to cut milk bottle cap rings, or leave them in the bottle with the cap on, so they can’t strangle our wildlife," the Kiama local wrote on Facebook. Dozens agreed it was "so sad" and incredibly "tragic" what had happened, especially because it was avoidable.
Taking 'small actions' at home can make a difference
Sadly, "it happens frequently" many pointed out, and ring-shaped objects disposed of incorrectly are a major problem facing Aussie wildlife, Megan Fabian from the Australia Wildlife Society told Yahoo News Australia, with thousands of birds being strangled by them each year.
Milk rings are just one item that poses a risk to wildlife with rubber bands, hair ties and dome-shaped lids always proving troublesome. The Society's Snip Rings for Wildlife campaign, launched in 2020, aims to raise awareness and encourage Aussies to dispose of rubbish correctly by snipping through plastic rings.
"Taking small actions at home, such as snipping through the ring-shaped items before disposing of them, can make a difference," Megan said. "All you need to do is snip the ring shapes in half, put it in the bottle, put the cap back on, and then you can put it in your recycling bin."
Push to ban ring-shaped items
Once upon a time, bowerbirds would collect brightly colours flowers, feathers and other natural items. But over time, their displays have become dominated by plastic waste. The Australia Wildlife Society is pleading with the government to ban ring-shaped items.
Megan said a lot of bottles at Coles now have 'peel and seal' lids instead of plastic rings. And while it's a "step in the right direction, it poses another issue.
"The 'peel and seal' is made of plastic, so you are combating one issue, but still creating another. We're not 100 per cent there." she explained. Yahoo has contacted Coles for comment.
Wires CEO Leanne Taylor agreed plastic entanglement is "an increasingly common rescue call out" for volunteers, but sadly not all wildlife can be captured and helped. In this situation, "they will likely die a slow and painful death".
"This poor bowerbird is a prime example of how important it is for us to responsibly dispose of all our rubbish, especially near waterways where it can end up on river banks or in reeds and entrap native species such as platypus, turtles and water birds," she told Yahoo.
The photo shared on Facebook on Saturday prompted a desperate plea from locals who say it's "heartbreaking" to see so many native animals impacted by plastic waste. "People need to be more careful and mindful of wildlife," one said.
"I still can't understand why we haven't come up with a better solution than these stupid rings," another fumed. "We all need to stop buying the milk that has the blue rings! This is a known problem," raged a third.
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